I realize that what I teach men about relationships sometimes goes contrary to conventional wisdom and is often counter-intuitive to Nice Guys.
Here’s a question I recently received from a recovering Nice Guy, asking about my concept of men creating a great cake of a life and inviting a woman to be the icing on top.
“Dr. Glover, I’m a long time listener of your awesome podcasts and have probably read the book about four times.
“I just heard the podcasts ‘Invite her to be the icing on the top of your cake.’ I have taken the "pursue your passion" advice early on after becoming acquainted with your materials. In fact, something I've devoted an entire year to will soon come to fruition this January, which excites me to no end.
“I guess (at the risk of over analyzing this), my question is, what exactly is icing? It sounded like you were saying that if there's a girl in your life, she is insignificant in proportion to pursuing your passion and should be treated as such.
“Would a girl feel loved if she was regarded in that way? Would a girl even stick around if she was looked upon as, and made to feel that she was, only a trophy (or icing)?”
T.S., Portland, Oregon
This is a great question.
Most of the men I work with tend to make their partner the center of their world and work hard to make her happy. I followed this relationship paradigm for ten years in my first marriage and for about half of my second marriage.
Two stark truths about Nice Guys are that they often lack passion and purpose in their life, and they tend to make a woman (or women) the center of their life (their purpose).
As a guy who has bumbled his way through his relationships for over half his life by following this Nice Guy paradigm, and as a marriage therapist for the last thirty years, I have come to see that it’s flawed at a number of levels.
Here are just a few of the problems with making a woman your highest priority (your cake) in life:
- When you have no passion or purpose in life, what do you have to offer a woman that she can’t get from her girlfriends (or television, or a good book, or her vibrator)? What healthy woman would be attracted to a guy whose greatest passion is her? What does he have to offer?
- Trying to fit into a woman’s life is a recipe for disaster. I’ve observed this professionally and personally. How do you add to a woman’s life if you don’t have a life of your own? How do you upgrade her life in any way?
- Trying to make a woman happy is also impossible and thankless. In my experience, any time a man tries to make a woman happy, he usually misses the mark by miles and can’t figure out what he did wrong. Bottom line, it’s never a person’s job to make another person happy. (And if a woman isn’t happy, there is nothing a man can do to fix it.)
- Making a woman the center of your life forces her to set the tone of the relationship. Most women can do this, but in my experience, most don’t like it. (It burdens and irritates them.) Women consistently tell me how much they hate it when a man asks, “What do you want to do?”
- Putting a woman first usually means a guy ends up sacrificing things that are important to him. This not only makes him less interesting to the woman he is trying to please, but makes him needy and resentful and burdens the woman with filling the gaps of what he has left behind.
- Elevating a woman to your highest passion makes you passive and pleasing. In a sense, you make a woman (or women) your god – your higher power. Since you will invest energy into trying to keep her happy (so she won’t leave you), you will avoid doing anything that might upset her or rock the boat.
- Making a woman your highest priority kills your integrity and makes you fundamentally unavailable. (See the point above.)
- Trying to please a woman by giving her all the power (or making her the cake of your life), kills polarity and blocks reciprocity in a relationship. Sexual polarity is what makes intimate relationships interesting, and a free-flowing give-and-take is the foundation of a healthy relationship. When you are passive and pleasing toward a woman, you inhibit both.
- Lacking a great cake of a life forces you to be seductive. When you don’t believe a woman would be attracted to you (or want to stay with you), just the way you are, you have to seduce her. Nice guys typically seduce a woman by listening to her talk about her problems, trying to be different from other men, fixing, doing things for her, being available to her beck and call, pleasing, and telling her what they think she wants to hear (lying).
- Elevating a woman to your highest priority will keep you in constant anxiety. What if she gets mad at you? What if she withdraws? What if she leaves you? If your woman is the center of your life (your cake), the possibility of losing her will constantly haunt you (and you’ll be a wreck when she does leave).
Here’s the bottom line: a healthy woman doesn’t want to be more than the icing on a man’s great cake of a life. A good woman wants to be with a man who has passion and good guy friends, welcomes challenge, takes good care of himself, and makes a difference in the world.
Over the years as a marriage therapist, I’ve encountered a few women who have insisted the man make her his number one priority. In every case, these women have been narcissistic and emotionally wounded and had a track record of unhappy relationships.
I have experienced the cake/icing equation from both sides. When I made women the cake of my life, every one of the problems I listed above defined my relationships. I didn’t make me happy, and I didn’t make the women happy. Every one of these relationships ended with bitterness on both sides.
For the last fifteen years or so I have been working on my great cake of a life. In general, I define the key ingredients of a man’s great cake as including:
- pursing passion
- spending time with guy friends
- getting regular, strenuous exercise
- leaning into challenge
- giving his gift to the world
I get up every morning, looking forward to my day. I have great friends. I’m in good health. I work out. I travel. I have loving and supportive relationships with my family. I have love in my life. I’m changing the world.
I have a full life – a great cake – and I am constantly working to make it better.
When I began working on my cake several years ago, I noticed that not only were women naturally more attracted to me just the way I was, but that I also didn’t feel needy or dependent on having to have a woman in my life. This made me even more attractive.
The better my cake became, the more a great woman became the sweet icing on top.
Ironically, none of the women who’ve been in my life for the last ten years have ever found this to be demeaning or unsatisfying.
Following this cake/icing paradigm, I am happier, and the woman is happier. I’m more available, and so is she. I’m free to follow my passions, and so is she. I don’t live fearing my partner will leave me. If she does, it will be a loss, but I’ll still have my cake.